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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter8,part2)

2006-08-28 23:26

    PART 2

    James turned in at the Century Building. In the elevator he met his cousin. Both of them were bound for the office of the candidate being supported by the progressives for the Senate.

    "Anything new?" Jeff asked.

    "A rumor that Killen has fallen by the wayside. Big Tim was with him for an hour last night at the Pacific."

    "I've not been sure of Killen for quite a while. He's a weak sister."

    "He'd better not go wrong if he expects to keep on living in this state," James imparted, a hard light in his eyes.

    At the third floor they left the elevator and turned to the right under an arch bearing the sign Hardy, Elliott & Carson. Without knocking they passed into Hardy's private office.

    Of the three men they found there it was plain that one was being pushed doggedly to bay. He was small and insignificant, with weak blinking eyes. Standing with his back to the wall, he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.

    "Who says it?" he whined shrilly. "Who says I sold out?"

    An apoplectic, bull-necked ruffian stood directly in front of him and sawed the air violently with a fat forefinger.

    "I ain't sayin' it, Killen——I'm askin' if you have. What I say is that you'd better make your will before you vote for Frome. Make 'em pay fat, for by thunder! you'll be political junk, Mr. Sam Killen."

    Killen, sweating agony, turned appealingly to Jeff. "I haven't said I was going to vote for Frome. Mr. Rawson's got no right to bulldoze me and I'm not going to stand it."

    "The hell you ain't," roared Rawson, shaking his fist at the unhappy legislator. "I guess you'll stand the gaff till you explain."

    "Just a moment, Bob," interrupted Jeff. "Let's get at the facts. Don't convict the prisoner till the evidence is in."

    Rawson hobbled his wrath for the moment. "That's all right, Jeff. You ask Hardy. I'm giving you straight goods."

    The keen-eyed, smooth-shaven man in a gray business suit who had been listening silently to the gathering storm contributed information briefly and impartially.

    "Mr. Killen spent an hour last night with Big Tim at the Pacific Hotel."

    "Sneaked in by the side entrance and took the elevator to the seventh floor. The deal was arranged in Room 743," added Rawson.

    "You spied on me," burst from Killen's lips.

    "Sure thing. And we caught you with the goods," sneered the red-faced politician.

    "I'll not stand it. I'll not support a man that won't trust me."

    "You won't, eh?" Rawson was across the floor in two jumps, worrying his victim as a terrier does a rat. "Forget it. You were elected to support R.

    K. Hardy, sewed up with a pledge tight and fast. We're not in the primer class, Killen. Don't get a notion you're going to do as you damn please. You'll——vote——for——R.——K.—— Hardy. Get that?" "I refuse to be moved by threats, and I decline to discuss the matter further," retorted Killen with a pitiable attempt at dignity.

    Rawson laughed with insulting menace. "That's a good one. I've sold out, but it's none of your business what I got. That what you mean?"

    "You surely must recognize our right to an explanation, Killen," Jeff said gently.

    "No, sir, I don't," flushed the little man with sullen bravado. "I ain't got a thing against you, but Rawson goes too far."

    "I think he does," Jeff agreed. "Killen is all right. Gentlemen, suppose you let him and me talk it over alone. We can reach an agreement that is satisfactory."

    Hardy's face cleared. This was not the first waverer Jeff had brought back into line, not the first by several. There was something compelling in his friendly smile and affectionate manner.

    "I'm sure Mr. Killen intends only what is right. I'm content to leave the matter entirely with you and him," Hardy said. Jeff turned to Rawson. "And you, old warhorse?"

    "Have it your own way, but don't forget there's a nigger in the woodpile."

    Jeff and Killen walked to the office of the latter, which was on the next floor of the Century Building, the legislator stiffening his will to resist the assaults he felt would be made upon it. But as soon as the door was shut Jeff surprised him by laying a hand on his shoulder.

    "Tell me all about it, Sam."

    Killen gasped. He got an impossible vision of young Farnum as his brother in trouble. "About what? I didn't say——"

    "I've known for a week something was wrong. I couldn't very well ask you, but since I've blundered in you'd better let me help you if I can."

    Killen was touched. His lip trembled. "It don't do any good to talk about things. I guess a fellow has to carry his own griefs. Nobody else is hunting for a chance to invest in them."

    "What's a friend for?" Jeff wanted to know gently.

    The little man gulped. "I guess I've got no friends. Anyhow they don't count when a fellow's in hard luck. It's every man for himself."

    The younger man's smile was warm as summer sunshine. "Wrong guess, Sam. We're in this little old world to help each other when we can."

    The wretched man drew the back of a trembling hand across his moist eyes. He inhaled a long sobbing breath and broke into apology for his weakness. "Haven't slept for a week except from trional. The back of my head pricks day and night. Can't think of anything but my troubles."

    "Unload them on me," Jeff said lightly.

    "It's that mortgage on my mill," Killen blurted out. "It falls due this month and I can't meet it. Things haven't been going well with me."

    "Can't you get it renewed?"

    "Through a dummy Big Tim has bought it up. He won't renew, unless -" Killen broke off, to continue in a moment: "And that ain't all. My little girl needs an operation awful badly. The doctor says she had ought to go to Chicago. I just can't raise the price."

    "How much is the mortgage?"

    "Three thousand," replied the man; and he added with a gust of weak despair, "My God, man! That mill's all I've got to keep bread in the mouths

    of my motherless children."

    "I reckon Big Tim has offered to cancel the mortgage notes and give you about a thousand to go on," Jeff suggested casually.

    Killen nodded. "It would put me on my feet again and give the kiddie her chance." The answer had slipped out naturally, but now the fear chilled him that he had been lured into making a confession. "I didn't say I was going to take it," he added hastily.

    "You're quite safe with me, Killen," Jeff told him. He was wondering whether he could not get Captain Chunn to take over the mortgage.

    "I'm not so much struck on Hardy myself," grumbled the legislator. "He's a rich man, just as Frome is. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, looks like to me."

    "No, Killen. Frome represents the Transcontinental and the utility corporations. Hardy stands for the people. And you're pledged to support Hardy. You mustn't forget that."

    "I ain't likely to forget that mortgage either," Killen came back drearily.

    "I think I can arrange about having the mortgage renewed. Will that do?"

    "Yes. We're going to have a good year in the lumber business. Probably in twelve months I could clear it off."

    "Good! And about the little girl——she'll have her chance. I promise you that."

    The mill man wrung his hand, tears in his eyes. "You're a white man, Jeff, and a dashed good friend. I tell you I'd hate like poison to go back on Hardy. A fellow can't afford to do a thing like that. But what else could I do? A fellow's got to stand by the children he brings into the world, ain't he?"

    Farnum evaded with a smile this discussion of moral issues. "Well, you can stand by them and us, too, if I can fix up this mortgage proposition for you."

    "When will you let me know?" asked Killen anxiously.

    "Will to-morrow morning do? In James' office, say."

    "I'll have to know before noon," Killen reminded him, flushing with

    embarrassment.

    "If I can arrange to get the money——and I think I can——I'll let you know at eleven. Don't worry, Sam. It will be all right."

    The legislator shook hands again. "I ain't going to forget what you're doing for me. No, sir!"

    Jeff laughed his thanks easily. "That's all right. I reckon you would have done as much for me. Sam Killen isn't the man to throw his friends down."

    "That's right," returned the other with a sudden valiant infusion of courage. "I stand pat. I'm not going to lie down before the Transcontinental. Not on your life, I ain't."

    They were walking toward the outer door as Killen's speech overflowed. "The Transcontinental doesn't own this state yet. No, sir! Nor Frome and Merrill either. We'll show 'em——"

    The valor of the big voice collapsed like a rent balloon. For the office door had opened to let in Big Tim O'Brien. His shrewd eyes passed with whimsical disgust over Killen and rested on Farnum.

    The situation made for amusement, since Jeff knew that Big Tim had heard over the transom enough to show that Killen's vote had been recaptured for Hardy.

    "You've stumbled on a red hot Hardy ratification meeting. Did you come to get into the bandwagon while there is time, Tim?" Jeff asked with twinkling eyes.

    "No sinking ship for mine. I guess I wouldn't ratify yet a while if I were youse, Farnum."

    He stood aside to let the editor of the _World_ pass. Jeff laughed. "Go to it, Tim."

    "I haven't got anything to say to you, Mr. O'Brien," the mill man announced with heightened color.

    "Maybe I've got something to say to youse, Mr. Killen."

    Jeff passed out smiling. "Well, I'll not interrupt you. See you tomorrow, Sam."

    Big Tim sat down heavily in a chair and pulled from his vest pocket a fat black cigar.

    "Smoke, Killen?"

    "No, thanks." The legislator spoke with stiff dignity.

    Big Tim looked at the other man and his paunch shook with the merriment that appeared to convulse him.

    "What's the matter?" snapped the mill man.

    "I'm laughin' at the things I see, Killen. Man, but you're an easy marrk."

    "How?"

    "Can't you see they're stringin' youse for a sucker?"

    "No, I can't see it. I've made up my mind. I'm going to stand by Hardy."

    "Fine! Now I'll tell youse one thing. We're goin' to elect Frome tomorrow." O'Brien rose as one who has no time for unprofitable talk. "Your friends have sold youse out. I'm going to call on one of thim right now."

    "I don't believe it."

    "Of course you don't." Tim's projecting balcony shook with the humor of it. "But you'll be convinced when they take your mill from youse, me boy. It's a frame-up——and you're the goat."

    With which shot he took his departure, too shrewd to attempt any argument. He had left behind him a doubt. That was all he could do just now.

    Before Tim was out of the building Killen was gumshoeing after him. He meant to find out whether O'Brien had been lying when he said he was going to call on one of his friends. Fifty yards behind him Killen followed, along Powers Avenue, down Pacific Street, to the Equitable Building. From the pilot of one of the elevators he learned that the big boss had got off at the seventh floor and gone straight into James Farnum's office.

    His mind was instantly alive with suspicions tumbling over each other in chaotic incoherency. There was a deal of some kind on foot. Jeff's cousin was in it. Then Jeff must be playing him for a sucker. His teeth set with a snap.

    Meanwhile Big Tim was having a heart to heart talk with James K. Farnum.

    The young lawyer had risen in surprise at the entrance of O'Brien. The

    big fellow, laughing easily, had helped himself to a chair.

    "Make yourself at home, Tim," he said jauntily.

    "Anything I can do for you, Mr. O'Brien?" James asked with stiff dignity.

    "Sure. Or I wouldn't be here. Sit down. I'll not bite ye."

    The lawyer continued to stand.

    "I've come to tell you that I'm a dammed fool, Mr. Farnum," the boss grinned.

    James bowed slightly. He did not know what was coming, but he had no intention of committing himself to anything as yet.

    "In ever lettin' youse get away from me. I mistook yez for a kid glove."

    Big Tim gazed with palpable admiration at the cleancut figure, at the square cleft chin in the strong handsome face. It was his opinion this young man would go far, and that every step of the way would be in the interests of James K. Farnum. Shrewdly he guessed that the way to pierce that impassive front was through an appeal to vanity and to selfinterest.

    James waited, alert and expressionless, but O'Brien, having made his apology, puffed in silence.

    "I think you suggested some business that brought you," James reminded him.

    "You've got in you the makings of a big man. Nothing on the coast to touch youse, Mr. Farnum. And I didn't see it. I was sore on your name. That was what was bitin' me. It's sure on Big Tim this time."

    None of the triumph that flooded Farnum reached the surface.

    "I think I don't quite understand," he said quietly.

    "I'm eatin' humble pie because youse slipped wan over on me. You're the best campaign speaker in the state, bar none, boy as you are."

    James could not keep his gratified smile down. "This heart-felt testimonial comes free, I take it," he pretended to mock.

    "Come off with youse," O'Brien flung back good humoredly. "I'm not here to hand you booquets, but to talk business. Here's the nub of it, me boy. You need me, and I need you."

    "I don't quite see how I need you, Mr. O'Brien."

    "That's because you're young yet and don't know the game. Let me tell you this." The boss leaned forward, his hard eyes focused on Farnum. "You'll never get anywhere so long as youse trail with that reform bunch. It's all hot air and tomfool theory. Populism and socialism! Take my worrd for it, there's nothin' to 'em."

    "I'm neither a populist nor a socialist, Mr. O'Brien."

    "Coorse you're not. I can see that with wan eye shut. That's why I hate to see youse ruin yourself with them that are. I've no need to tell you that this country's run by business men and not cranks. Me, I'm a business man, and I run the city. P. C. Frome's a business man; so's Merrill. That's why they're on top. Old Joe Powers is a business man from first to last. You'll never get anywhere, me boy, until youse look at things from a business point of view."

    If James was impressed he gave no sign of it. "Which means you want me to support P. C. for the Senate. Is that it?"

    "I don't care whether you do or don't. We've got this fight won. But this is only the beginning. I can see that. Agitators and trouble breeders are busy iverywhere. Line up right and you've got a big future before you. Joe Powers himself has noticed your speeches. P. C. told me that last night."

    For a moment the lawyer felt an exultant paeon of victory beat in his blood. His imagination saw the primrose path of the future stretch before him in a golden glow. The surge of triumph passed and he was himself again, cool and wary. His eyes met Big Tim's full and straight. "I was elected to support Hardy. I expect to stay with him."

    The political boss waved aside this declaration. "Sure. Of course you've got to VOTE for him. I've got too much horse sense to try to buy YOU. But after this election? Your whole future's not tied up with fool reformers, is it? Say, what's the matter with you havin' a talk with P. C.?"

    "Oh, I'll talk with him. P. C. and I are good friends."

    "When can you see him? Why not to-night?"

    "No hurry, is there?" James paused an instant before he added: "I'm going to The Brakes this afternoon on a social call. If Frome happens to be at home we might talk then. So far as making a direct appointment with him, I wouldn't care to do that until the senatorial election is decided. You

    understand that I pledge myself to nothing."

    "That's right," agreed Big Tim. "It don't do any harm to hear both sides of a proposition. I guess that cousin o' yours kind of hypnotized you. He's got more fool schemes for redeemin' this state. Far as I can see it don't need any redeemin'. It's loaded to the rails with prosperity and clippin' off its sixty miles an hour. I say, let well enough alone. Where youse keep your matches, Mr. Farnum? Thanks! Well, talk it over with P. C. I reckon you can get together. So long, me boy."

    Not until he was safe in the street did the big boss of Verden allow his satisfaction expression.

    "We've got him! We've got the boob hooked!" he told himself exultantly.

    A little man standing behind a showcase was watching him tensely.

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